This ThinkIn is in partnership with Tetra Pak
Climate change is happening here and now. Business leaders know they have to act faster and more effectively against it, but many materials and processes don’t just have a carbon footprint; they have critical value to people. It is clear that business-as-usual needs an overhaul for the sake of forests, oceans and the atmosphere, but where is the balance to be struck between meeting the needs of people and the planet? How do we create a dynamic in which people and our planet are not in competition?
Readout – James Harding
Suddenly, there’s a new momentum to tackling the climate emergency. President-elect Joe Biden has brought in a team to accelerate the carbon agenda. John Kerry is his new climate tsar. Janet Yellen, nominated to be Treasury Secretary, has a record on climate finance. Tony Blinken, chosen to be Secretary of State, has a history of building international coalitions. There’s a group of people taking charge of the US government with a record on climate action.
This will make a difference next year. With American support, the COP26 in Glasgow now scheduled for November 2021 can act as a forcing mechanism for governments, industry and the public to make a step change on decarbonisation.
There is leadership in business, too. As we heard from BT and Tetra Pak in the ThinkIn, companies are cleaning carbon out of their industrial processes, shifting to renewable energy sources and taking responsibility not just for their own emissions but the footprint of their supply chains as well. Many companies, in fact, are moving faster than their countries to net zero.
But, for good reason, plenty of people fear it won’t be enough. Climate change is already upon us. It will result in vast human migrations, mass animal extinctions, huge numbers of human deaths at the hands of increasingly frequent natural disasters. Yet the trajectory of carbon emissions has not changed a jot since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. It’s just kept on rising.
To some, then, we need a revolution now. For the sake of our planet and future generations of people, we have to stop living, shopping, travelling and consuming the way we do. We need to live on less.
The problem with this argument is that it goes against human nature. People want to improve their lives and the lives of their children. It goes against the practice of politics – no one is going to campaign for a reduction in prosperity. And it goes against geopolitics – the developing world is not going to shortchange its people just because the developed world has burned through the carbon budget.
Much then hangs on what that trio – government, business and the public – can deliver in the coming year. It is time to be ambitious:
- Item One on the COP26 To Do list is to turn the emissions targets set in Paris into binding commitments in Glasgow.
- Governments need to force the pace on carbon pricing, funding new technologies from hydrogen to large-scale carbon capture, and incentivising full circularity in materials use.
- Businesses meanwhile are in a race to strip emissions out of industrial processes and supply chains. Even those that aren’t winning need to see this is a race to the top.
Much has changed in a short time. We are not debating climate change. We are acting on it. There’s suspicion of greenwash, as there should be, but for government, business and the public to be challenging each other is healthy and helpful. All three can be said to be guilty of saying more than we do to turn the climate crisis around. All three are essential for radical decarbonisation.
Rarely has there been a moment when one subject has gripped the conscience of so many. This may be as close to a consensus as we are going to get on climate action. It’s the reason there’s Big Mo on climate going into 2021. We’re going to need it.
editor and experts
Co-founder and Editor
Managing Director of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Former UK Minister of Energy and Clean Growth and President of COP
Jan du Plessis
Non-Executive Chairman, BT Group
Executive Vice President of Packaging Solutions and Commercial Operations at Tetra Pak
Dean of The Fletcher School of global affairs at Tufts University. Former UN Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All